July 2015


Graduate employability and Catalan business

Pere Torres Grau - Secretary for Business and Competitiveness, Government of Catalonia

When one speaks about graduate employability, one must of necessity take three concurrent aspects into account:

  • What do young people entering university want to study?
  • What courses does the university system offer?
  • What kind of professional profiles do enterprises want?

The central position of the university is evident in that it links the expectations of future professionals with the requirements of employers. This position can lead to the labour market either having a positive cohesive effect on higher education or, quite the opposite, it can lead to a negative distortion effect. It is therefore salutary that the universities reflect on how they must perform this role.

From frequent contacts with business leaders and managers, I have gained the impression that they assess very highly the preparation of graduates for the labour market in Catalonia as far as their specific curriculum is concerned, but that their soft skills (skills that can be potentially applied in most occupations and branches of economic activity) are weak. They also gripe about the shortage of graduates with the right skills in certain fields. These are the issues that therefore need to be dealt with in order to increase the employability of graduates in Catalonia.

It is of course fundamental to bear in mind the perspective of business and industry in Catalonia, more than 95% of which is made up of small and medium-size enterprises, which operate very differently to large enterprises. In this regard, for example, the progressive differentiation and micro-specialisation of many degree courses is not an advantage in terms of recruitment needs.

In short, the two issues that need to be addressed are – and this is no surprise – quantity and quality.

Firstly, it has become essential to ensure that there is a sufficient and reasonable match between the supply of degree courses and places, on the one hand, and the realities of the labour market on the other. Efforts are needed to ensure that this supply is determined more by the need to meet the competitive needs of the economic environment and less by inertia and the structure of faculty teaching staff.

The second issue is how to complement conventional content learning with the acquisition of soft skills. What do employers need? Fundamentally speaking, the needs of employers include foreign language skills (in plural, even better), team working, intrapreneurship, critical thinking, communication skills, etc. These are not subjects that can be memorised, however, but habits that need to be internalised. The answer therefore lies not in creating more subjects but in adopting certain learning methodologies whereby these skills are transferred to and acquired by students.
The best way to learn team working is for the university to teach and assess by way of team working, and the best way to teach communication skills is for oral expression skills, etc. to be a requirement that is graded at university. Sincere and unprecedented efforts are therefore called for by the universities to review the teaching methodologies that are being applied.

In an economy that is increasingly digitalised, virtualised and globalised (according to Simon Dolan, professor of Human Resources at ESADE), the skills required by graduates will continue to evolve and attention will need to be paid increasingly to the ways in which they are expected to change.

To sum up, given the growing awareness that employment in the future will be more flexible, that people will change job various times and that jobs will be defined in a more dynamic and less static way, it seems but reasonable to think that university education will be affected by all of this. And only by introducing due flexibility into learning will we be able to address flexibility in employment.

This is undoubtedly one of the main challenges facing the economy at both global and Catalan level. As we are the only ones who can do anything about this, open and persevering dialogue is necessary between the university system, business and industry, and the public authorities and administration, and it needs to be done without delay.


Generalitat de Catalunya

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